Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Empty Nest

So the house"guests" have left. Barring a pair of trousers that were left in the cupboard because "Those are Anando's, but they look just like Baba's. Oh wait, they are Baba's trousers. Will they fit in the hand baggage now?" So anyway, I think all that they've left behind is lots of home-cooked food and blessings - after all, we need food for the body and the soul, right?

A crucial to-do on the agenda with my parents this time was a matter of tech-literacy. From gifting my parents a digital camera to teaching them how to use it to teaching Ma how to download pictures on to the computer to teaching her how to mail them to was an exercise which, fortunately, was successful. Appearing below is one of her best photos, taken when we went on the desert safari to the dunes of Lahbab outside Dubai.

The other big achievement: launching my father's blog. The man who motivated me to start writing, from whom I learnt how to compose letters to relatives, how to write to famous people seeking autographed pictures, who encouraged me to send my writings to newspapers, who promotes my writing as only a proud parent can do, who dreams that someday (soon) I will write a book, and who sent me a lovely ink pen when I declared that I wanted to write more and type less - he finally has a blog up. The intensely personal nature of the first post doesn't prevent me from telling the world about it. I don't think he will mind.

So now that the nest is empty and the fridge is full, I shall think of the next project at hand. Getting Ma to start a blog. Maybe a photo blog :) As you can see, I am always thinking of work for other people. Meanwhile, a deadline is perishing. Tata.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


It's a bit strange to have your parents come to your house to stay. I mean, these are the people from whom you have learnt your definition of home. You have watched them run a house, a kitchen, and you have seen what works (and what doesn't). Then of course you apply it elsewhere with your own 2 cents thrown in and create your ideal home.

Then they arrive, and they're like any other guests you may have at your place. You need to point out the dustbin's location. They ask you which way the bathroom is. You tell them which switch is for the bathroom light and ask whether they need anything else. You explain which cupboard door is a bit loose. Which window doesn't close properly. Where the salt is in the kitchen.

And then of course comes the excitement of showing them a new place which you have discovered independently of them. Where once you saw everything through their eyes, and they kept you safe and cushioned you as you learnt your way around, it's now the other way around. If they go out alone in the neighborhood you give them precise directions for coming back.

And of course if they are coming to Dubai tonight to stay for 9 days, you sit at work and suppress your excitement, blogging to tell the world you are too excited to work while you hide it from your colleagues.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Tag Taggle Toggle

This one comes from Eve's Lungs. It's the perfect tag for someone like me because I tend to live in the past. Mulling over the state of the world takes a backseat as I delve into memories and recall instances and conversations and people with clarity. So, here goes.

My oldest memory: Is boring. My mother can't believe I remember this - I toddled over to the lowest shelf of the kitchen and knocked over an entire bowl of dal, creating a mess. So I must have been less than 2 years old. Sigh...butterfingers even back then.

Ten years ago: I was finishing college and agonizing over staying on at Stephen's versus going to JNU. Ah, that tiny sphere of concern.

My first thought this morning: Not already!

If you built a time capsule, what would it contain: Not sure of the principle of a time capsule, but it's like preserving things for eternity, right? In that case, it would hold everything and everyone from my present world, except, oh...cockroaches, terrorists, alarm clocks (ironic, in a time capsule..hah) and other irritants.

This year: I turned 30 but it was the least significant part of the year. I think that's what being an adult is all about. Much has happened - I have gone back to fulltime work, my brother has learnt to live on his own, I have said goodbyes, and hellos, and generally become more of what I want to be.

14 years from now: Is impossible to predict. I live in the past, remember?

Tagging: MM (as if she didn't have enough to blog about already), A Muser, Suku, and Audacious, just to get her to blog!!! And a dear cousin who has just started blogging and is thinking of topics - Chandra didi.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


I've blogged about my gymming experiences before. But that was before I turned 30. And about x kilos ago. So, ladies and gentlemen, the gym is back in my life. Every morning, I realise how old I'm getting when I can't drag myself out of bed to get in an hour, no scratch that, 45 minutes, of gymming before I head to work. Funny, I thought people slept less with old age. What is this? Some sort of weird sleep-while-you-can gift before insomnia and dementia set in?

Each morning, make that every other morning, make that most mornings, make that...oh well, I went anyway, each morning that I go to the gym, I dress in my faded t-shirt, slightly too-long track pants (I want to buy cool new Adidas ones with the stripes down the side but somehow can't justify them to myself until I make the gym a regular habit), and sneakers that will soon - if I exercise enough - allow my toes to peep out (previous parentheses apply).

Anyway, so the other morning Anando and I were walking towards the gym, which is near our offices, when I noticed a bunch of women walking ahead of us. Backpacks, sports shoes, frumpy clothes (branded though). And I looked down at Anando and me - backpacks and assorted bags containing change of clothes, office shoes, lunch, laptop. We were all dressed the same. Happily, Holmes-like, I conjectured - "Oh look, they're going to the gym too."

Anando sighed. His delusional wife, he must be thinking. "No, they're just students."

When you start thinking students dress like they're going to the gym, you really are old.

Saturday, December 06, 2008


He checked his hair in the mirror and groaned - this Keo Karpin oil was no good, he would switch to coconut. He'd been losing hair and it had changed the way his face looked, now that he had an extra 2 inches of forehead! His gaze moved lower and, oh no, were those wrinkles? Couldn't be, he decided. It was too early for him to be getting wrinkles. He was just getting paranoid about his skin.

His kurta was crisply ironed and the gold buttons he'd inherited from his grandfather gleamed back at him, winking at his vanity as he ran his hands over them, feeling the familiar texture of the chipped design.

As he walked down to the nearby shop, he knew she would be sitting on her porch, her hair loose as she sat and daydreamed, working on some embroidery for her family. Would she even look up at him, he wondered. He would have to find something to talk to her about as he walked past. Something casual, but that would interest her. But he must remember to act nonchalant. Yes, he'd ask about her sister, hadn't she been ill lately? He couldn't remember. He really should have paid more attention when she talked, rather than thinking of a smart retort that would impress her.

His eagerness made him smile. In a corner of his heart he felt a pang for the other woman he had once impressed, successfully. But she was gone, and life carries on, he rationalised, overlooking the way he had mourned her.

He was ready, a few dashes of Old Spice, and he was all set to storm the neighborhood. He went down the stairs. They seemed higher than they had been when he was a child. Strange, he thought.

At the door, he paused, breathing in the fresh air. Ah, how wonderful to be alive! He was about to march out purposefully when the little boy stopped him. "Won't you take your walking stick with you, Dadu?"

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Prove It!

Pakistan has refused to send the ISI chief to India, instead sending a "representative". How can they do this? It's making me furious. If they want us to believe that this was not an act supported by the government they need to prove by standing alongside India in this investigation. Reports of late night meetings between the Pak President, PM and Army chief sound suspiciously like a huddle, as if they want to get their "story" right.

Okay, so maybe I am pointing fingers here, but I don't care. This is no time to be sensitive to governments, only to individuals. I will never forget the sight of Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan's shocked mother caressing his cold forehead.

Update: (in response to OJ) As subsequent coverage and speculation suggests - the government is just a puppet and faced a lot of flak from the Opposition, the Army and even (annoyingly and dishearteningly) from the media - for agreeing initially without consulting with everyone. Some have apparently said that for Pak to send their Chief would be an admission of guilt. You should see Karan Thapar grill Zardari about this on IBN.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Reality TV

The city people arrive in to touch the stars - when that city turns into a nightmare, there is betrayal, anger, horror, and a fascinated magnetism for watching the same reels of blood, gore, death and hatred playing again and again on every news channel.

Images of a young man with crazed eyes - is it his expression or a red-eye malfunction - wearing a T-shirt and a backpack slung on his shoulder, fill the screen. If it were not for the gun in his hand and the blood on his face he would seem just a college student.

As I type there is some sort of operation about to be initiated - and I hope it will be successful. Media have been requested not to broadcast details, and I don't mind. I'd rather the media conspire with the law-keepers than blab it to the world (and terrorists) in the name of information.

Every news channel - Indian and international - we turned to during the long night was showing just this. The worst ever terror attack on Bombay. And the most organised. I just hope it ends soon.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Tracks of Change

If I had to mime a train's action, I'd place my palm vertically against my nose and go Koo jhik jhik jhik, picking up tempo with the jhik jhiks and putting all my energy into going KOOOO in a quick regression to childhood and train games of travelling to exciting destinations.

I sometimes wonder how kids growing up in the age of electric trains will represent trains.

A cousin's memories of childhood train rides brought back to me the wonder trains had once been. The longest train ride I ever took was 2 nights and 3 days from Delhi to Vishakhapatnam. My brother, 2 years old then, was petrified when the train let off its first hoot and refused to get in. Once in, he looked around and asked, "Where did the train go?" And so began a long journey where we even played cricket with a plastic bat & ball in the corridor.

Much later a huge group travelled to Chennai for a wedding, and my cousin and I could barely chat over the collective Mukharji/Banerjee/Sen snores that erupted all around us once night fell. Afraid that other passengers would ask us to tell our family to hush, we quickly pretended to fall asleep ourselves!

Nowadays the most train travel happens when we go to Shantiniketan from Kolkata. The first time, we went in an unreserved compartment because Singur protests in December '06 delayed our travel. We listened to bauls and also bought the famous "Joynogor-er Moa" from a vendor who boarded the train. The moas were had and we began dissecting how it didn't quite taste too good and my poor mother-in-law tried to defend her enthusiasm by saying they no longer tasted like they used to. At that point the gentleman who had been hanging on to the overhead rail near our seat with one hand and picking his nose with the other chose to inform us that these weren't the genuine article anyway and the real stuff would come a few stations later.

Last year, at Agra station I had occasion to peer in through much-tinted windows at the hyped Palace on Wheels. While I've never travelled in that much luxury, I certainly am tempted to try and plan a long train holiday to someplace to recapture some of that laidback travel. Yes, the toilets may be a deterrent and I may control my beverage intake to counter that, but I think it would be worth it for a bit of time-travel!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Serious Business

He entered the meeting with a serious expression. His forehead was furrowed with years of work experience and business worries. His business suit was pin-striped, impeccable, and perfectly coordinated with his tie and cufflinks. His hair and hands were well-groomed. He sat down and seriously started explaining what he required in their new corporate brochure. He complained that the rough-cut we had shown him was not up to the mark. He contradicted what his marketing manager had told us. He contradicted what their mission statement said. He contradicted himself. He confused us.

But me. I just giggled inside. After all, how can you take someone seriously when they wear grey socks that have purple polka dots on them.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

On Shaky Ground

My taxi driver this morning was a Pathan from Pakistan, near the border with Afghanistan. The short drive was a pleasant one, because after asking if I'd mind some recorded music, he turned on a tape of Pashtun songs. It was a lilting, repetitive tune, and in bits and pieces it reminded of some Hindi film song or the other, especially from the black and white era. I think one of the main new learnings of moving to Dubai has been the chance to speak to Pakistanis, hear their political views, tap to Pashtun music, learn to make out Pathans by their accent, and to be able to think of them as people and not just an ethnic-group statistic.

And so the news of the earthquake near Quetta, which happened just a few hours before that, was twice as shocking. It's not been long enough since the last one, in early October 2005. And now, they're on their knees in a tragic repetition of last time. Three years is not enough time for people to start trusting the ground beneath their feet again.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Lights from the Darkness

When I lived in Hauz Khas in Delhi, our first donation-seekers for Diwali came from the Blind Relief Association. A young man with a happy smile and vacant eyes would be accompanied by a volunteer, and in exchange for a cotton duster and 2 tall, white candles we would hand over our donation of the year. It never occurred to me then that here was someone giving us candles who would never be able to see the light they spread.

At Diwali everyone sends wishes for joy and prosperity. Ornate and opulent Lakshmis decorate walls. Shopkeepers open fresh account books. Firecrackers cost a bomb. It's all about noise and show. But in the middle of it all, as we light up our rooms with a soft glow, as we crouch on the floor to perfect a rangoli, or gaze excitedly at fireworks in the sky, we forget how lucky we are to have the eyes to see it.

I'm in Dubai this year. So Diwali will be less of the noise and more of the lights. And as I give my ears a rest and focus on just seeing all the lights around me, I'm just going to count myself lucky that I can really see the beauty all around me.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Declare or Dump

Australia has really weird regulations on stuff you bring into the country. Perhaps their fears are justified, but it just seems so bizarre and such suspicious, high-moral ground behaviour that it annoyed me no end. Especially when we had about 10 points on the immigration form where we were asked about what sort of stuff we were bringing into Australia, right from plants and plant extracts (I declared Darjeeling Tea!) to the soil stuck on your shoes!!! Huge posters at the airport announce "Declare it or Dump It". Sniffer dogs come and take a whiff at your baggage as you wait in a serpentine queue that only seems to belong in Indian airports. And it worried me so much because I kept thinking of stuff I may have in my bag that I take for granted which may just arouse suspicion because I never thought to declare it. I was carrying some vibhuti - that sacred ash from Shirdi Sai Baba's temple and it's always in my bag. So I suddenly began wondering whether the x-ray might spot it and then I'd have to admit that yes, it is a plant derivaative after all and okay, please take me to jail!

Since I am not writing this from jail you can safely assume that the vibhuti cleared customs without any incidents! Tata people.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The "Fast" Life

It's Ramadan time. Dubai, being less Middle-Easty than most other Middle East type places, has free zones, such as where my office is, which allow restaurants to serve food during the day though in a place like Saudi Arabia you wouldn't even get a drink of water if you asked for it (which you shouldn't).

Apparently police vans patrol the streets and you can be unpleasantly reprimanded if you are seen eating or drinking in public, even in Dubai. The food court near my office has set up cane screens behind which it's business as usual. As you walk through suddenly narrower corridors, you can catch glimpses of people eating, of hear the clink of cutlery, smell food being cooked, but it's all covert, so you are not seen to be eating, drinking or smoking in public.

I have always known I could never fast. It definitely wouldn't bring me closer to my inner soul or to God or anything but starvation. But I respect people who can do it, even if I haven't always noticed them. Growing up as a majority member in India - a Hindu - in a big city like Delhi, I never had to adjust or accommodate another culture's constraints. At least, it never inconvenienced me before. Muslim friends have fasted around me. Christians have given up a favorite item during Lent. Hindus have gone vegetarian during Navratra. Life just went on.

But being in Dubai during Ramadan, you cannot miss what's going on. Restaurants are closed outside the free zones. There are smoking tents set up in the public areas of the free zenes so that can puff away without offending others. You can't drink water in public or even chew gum. At iftar time it's impossible to get a taxi because most cab drivers are eager to go and pray and then break their fast. There are huge Ramadan tents set up across the city where iftar banquets are served up daily. And when I go for my daily (okay, okay, weekly) evening walk/jog, I work up a sweat even as my nostrils register grilled chicken and french fries cooking at the nearby Ramadan tent. Work ends at 4 instead of 6 and everything is slower because you can just say "Ramadan timings".

Anyway, I type all this as Ramadan goes into the last week of fervour and excitement. It's Eid on the 2nd I believe, and the city is gearing up for a week of holidays. And, I am gearing up for vacation! This post is being written from the AbuDhabi airport, where I will shortly board a flight to Sydney. After 15 hours of non-stop flying while my knees get bent at a 90 degree angle for eternity, we will be welcomed by Anando's brother and family for 10 days of fun, camping and sight-seeing. And of course, food anytime, anywhere. Let the fun times begin. I AM ON VACATION!!!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Unidentified Objects

I was at McDonald's yesterday. And a white man sitting at a nearby table suddenly attracted the attendant's attention. Pointing to a black bag left at an empty table, he said something.

After Saturday's events in Delhi, I froze a little, even though I am sitting safe and sound in far-off Dubai. I was impressed that he was so alert, pointing out an abandoned bag to the staff. I smiled at him.

Only when he looked blankly at me did I realise that he had just been pointing out something that may have been forgotten by its owner. Whereas I sprang to the conclusion that he was being a vigilant civilian pointing out a possible threatening object.

They say we go on. That we are indifferent. That this is oblivion and hard-heartedness. But we change. In small ways. In what we expect. In conclusions we jump to. In judgements we make. And that is the worst change of them all.

What can we do? The media were complaining that people just pick up the pieces and move on. But what would they want us to do? Sit at home? That's not life. So if moving on, if making a few phone calls to check that our loved ones are fine, before going back to our lives means we are immune, then so be it.

Yes, we pick up the pieces. But some pieces are shattered so fine that we never find them in the aftermath of a tragedy. We just rebuild with some chinks and carry on. For some of us the chinks are chunks of emptiness. For the rest of us, they are still chinks, thankfully. And may they remain that way.

Friday, September 12, 2008

An Important Parcel

He strode into the lobby of a small-time Dubai hotel. Approaching the reception desk, he said "There's a parcel left here for me by a colleague who was your guest last week. It's addressed to ___" The clerk rises to his feet, looks a little confused, consults with some others, and says, "Just a minute, Sir."

The young man waits, impatient. There's a taxi waiting for him outside and his wife is in it. He really needs that parcel in a hurry. He's had to go out of his way to pick up this package, and he can't afford to come again. The one-week wait has been long enough.

Meanwhile, the clerk and a few others are looking puzzled and unsure of what to do. The young man receives a call and wanders off to a corner of the lobby as the hotel staff buzz without arriving at a conclusion. Finally, the call ends and they approach him worriedly, "Sir, it's in the store room, and the key can't be located." Without waiting to see if this angers him, they hurry to assure him, "But we've called for the carpenter to come, Sir. He's on his way. He'll break the lock."

The young man nods and looks at his watch. His wife peers anxiously from the taxi into the lobby to see what's taking so long. The taxi driver grumbles a bit, then turns to the radio for solace. There has been some trouble in his country and a shrill-voiced woman protests in Urdu that the only way to stop men like these is to have someone like Phoolan Devi to stand against them. The wife is intrigued, forgetting about her husband and the parcel and the long wait.

In the lobby, the carpenter has arrived. The clerk briefs him, he nods. In a timely manner, the senior manager walks in. "What's going on?" he asks, as if to establish that he is the problem-solver in the building.

The situation is explained. The man looks annoyed and produces a key from his pocket.

The door is opened. The parcel retrieved. The young man receives it with thanks and hurries out. His wife asks, "What took so long?" He outlines it briefly and asserts, "But we got it."

She's looking at him in shock. "You'd have let them break the door?" she asks.

"Sure," Anando replies. "He brought the packet all the way from India for me, as a favour."

"But still!!!" I protest. He shrugs. I understand, I am compelled by the same attraction for the contents of this package as is Anando.

Obviously, nothing gets between us and our Sunfeast Glucose biscuits.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Standing Together

They could spend ages on the balcony, staring at traffic and life passing by till the day darkened and they came back indoors, to turn on the lamps, switch on the light in the prayer room, and get busy with an evening routine. The old woman would prepare dinner. The young girl would study for a while or watch TV before getting up to help with the rotis just before dinner. Long chats, family gossip, histories, mysteries, nostalgia, curiosity.

It has been a year now since the girl stands alone. Or at least, so she thinks. She hopes. She prays. And the face that flickers on the photograph by the memorial candle smiles knowingly.

Teppan-yaki, Teppan-yummy

Sukh Sagar opened near our house a month back. Anando and I had watched with keen interest as the shop was readied for its opening, droolingly anticipating a homely food experience in Dubai. We kept track of when the tables were set up, when the tablecloths were laid, when chairs were brought in. If one of us walked past the restaurant we'd report the visible progress to the other.

Finally it opened, and a friend who had eaten 3 meals there in 2 days urged us to try the "all you can eat Teppanyaki dosa", recommending it highly.

"All you can eat" is always music to the ears, and yesterday we strode purposefully to check out what all the fuss was about. To watch the teppanyaki dosas being created, we perched on bar stools, banana leaf covering our plates kept on the bar counter, as the chef deftly served us rounds of a mind-boggling dosa variety! Mushroom, spinach and cheese, Szechwan, rawa, and so many more I can't remember. I was quite excited about the whole concept of teppanyaki dosa now that I could smell it, and peering over the counter, I watched as the man cooked up the crisp marvels.

And then, I realised, this wasn't new at all. I had been eating teppanyaki dosa since the age of 9! The school canteen cooked dosas in front of us at lunch time! Back then, being given money rather than a lunch box was always a special occasion, with the pride and maturity I felt at being allowed to handle money to buy a meal. I'd check my pockets all day to make sure the coins hadn't fallen out. If it was a note, it would be carefully tucked in my pencil box. And at lunch time, trying to appear nonchalant, I would enter our high-ceilinged, bustling canteen.

I still remember the faces of those dosa-makers. tall, dark, moustached - they would scoop out the dosa paste with a bowl, tap it on the griddle to create a small, puffy circle of not-yet-dosa, and then, flipping the bowl over, would use its base to spread, spread, spread the paste outwards, creating a solar-system shaped, crisp dosa that was brown on the outside and white on the inside. A quick two-scoop of masala aloo, and my dosa was on my plate, and drowning in sambhar before I could voice my objection. I watched that process in fascination for 7 years, growing from the tiptoe-height of the flame to a height where I could look down on my lunch being prepared.

Sometimes it would be Narayan making the dosas. Versatile Narayan - who was my bus conductor on PV 11 when I first joined school, and assured my parents I would reach the correct classroom, who brought in trays of water glasses during exams, grinning conspiratorially at the kids taking advantage of the temporary break to peek at other papers or sneak in a quick consultation, who updated us on cricket scores on days we were unwillingly at school while cricketing history (or so we thought) was being made elsewhere, whose moustache is finally turning grey and whose hair is at last thinning.

So what made the dosas last night especially yummy was the memories that sizzled off the griddle and wafted me back in time - when bliss meant having a jingling 2 Rupees in your pocket for a hot, hearty meal.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Elevator Etiquette

He was on the phone as he entered the elevator. It was just the 2 of us. He hung up and both of us watched the floor-display like our lives depended on it. As his floor arrived, he stepped out briskly, but not before smiling widely at me and saying "Have a great day then." I was taken aback and said "fjghafklgh" with a feeble smile but by then he had left already.

Our Bombay apartment had one of those old-fashioned, sliding grill-door lifts, which had a one-track mind. So if Floor 5 called it, and on its way from Floor 1 to Floor 5 it also registered a request from Floor 3, it would ignore it happily, gliding in its transparent empty splendour, mocking the waiting passenger on Floor 3, before drawing up - a worthy, loyal chariot - on Floor 5. Floor 3 and 5 would then play a game of one-upmanship. Once Floor 5 got in and slid the door shut, the lift was fair game for everyone. So if Floor 5 hesitated even a second before hitting the "G" button, and Floor 3 hit the "call" button first, the lift would forget all about the Floor 5 passenger standing in it, and fly off to Floor 3. Of course, if Floor 5 hit "G" first, Floor 3 could "call" the lift endlessly, but the lift wouldn't deign to go to it before safely depositing Floor 5 at G.

So when you come from a place where the person in the lift is your rival, and has established their superiority by winning at "First-press-first-serve", politeness in lifts is a bit alien!

Elevators are funny places. Everyone tries to find a little space for themselves on the ride. Of course, it's the four corners that get occupied first. Then the middle, then the middle back, and then middle front. Anyone who comes in after that destroys the balance and necessitates a collapse of public space boundaries that most people find uncomfortable. (Of course, if you've done 5 years of higher studies hanging in a DTC then elbow room is a luxury, so I'm more relaxed than many.)

But what I find even funnier in elevators in Dubai, and elsewhere outside India, is the social code. The Westerners usually nod/smile/say good morning. The Indians rarely bother. The Arabs never do. The others fall somewhere / anywhere in between. And so, I am never sure whether to say it first. I have on occasion brightly smiled and met with a blank face. I have tried to strike up conversations and realised language was a problem. And then I feel really stupid. Like, who tries to make friends on a 15-second elevator ride anyway? And come on, isn't it totally mechanical to do this anyway? I don't get the whole smile-when-you-get in/stare-at-your-feet/ watch-your-phone/stare-at-the-floor-display /inspect-your-nails/smaile-when-you-get-out funda. I mean, really it's just a half-hearted social thing to do. In India, with how many people and for how long do you just smile and move on? Sooner rather than later they will find out whether you had an arranged marriage and where your family is from.

Here, you could smile at the same woman in the lift everyday and never go further than that. And I am never sure what the other person expects. I guess this comes from my whole personality flaw of always wanting people to like me. So if I decide to smile and the other just looks taken aback, I feel silly. Or if I decide to just look at the wall the other will turn out to be a social butterfly and give me a happy grin and make a general remark about the weather, and then I look anti-social. Me anti-social? ME? ME? I am then seized by the urge to restrain them from leaving the elevator, talk to them about a while to establish just how social I am, and then let them go their way. Thankfully I have not tried it yet.

Too much pressure. What do you do in the lift? I know, I know, all you sane people out there will say, just smile anyway. Reminds me of that T-shirt "Smile at a stranger, it'll scare them silly." I'm not sure I really want to practise that.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


from A Muser

Someone once told me that every blogger is extremely self-conscious while writing, because you know that the world is reading what you write. I completely agree - after all, every individual who gets out of bed every morning is a self-conscious being, "preparing a face to meet the faces that you meet...", dressing a certain way, speaking a certain way, being a certain way. Even if you profess that you don't care what people think, that too is a face.

And so, when my blogging face gets a really cool recognition like this, it sure makes me smile! I started this blog on an August evening in 2004. What is this blogger deal, I had wondered. Candy was already blogging at a different location and she is the first blogger I knew. I can write, I thought, so why not start this? And so I did. And then it carried on, very slowly and sporadically, until I found myself in Dubai last year, newly married, newly freelancing, newly questioning how I wanted to live the rest of my adult "settled life". And then I wrote, jerky writing at first, but soon my thoughts flowed faster, I wrote more, and I found some great, likeminded people on the web who were generous with compliments (so important for an aspiring writer) and seemed to find the time to read my ramblings.

There is so much about my life that I keep private on this blog, using it more as a platform to present thoughts and observations through my writing, rather than my innermost secrets. But I guess if you're still reading myramblings you've liked what you have seen, and A Muser has decided that I deserve this. I had been seeing this award on other blogs and was wishing, hoping, rationalising. "It's not so different, my template." "I don't blog that often." "I'm not doing anything new that earns me this award." I consoled myself!

And then, this morning - taraaaaaaa!

Now, to do my bit by passing it on to at least 7 others:

  • Tharini: Who writes with love, wisdom, and that mix of knowledge and curiosity that keeps me coming back! I love her template, the way her photos have wavy edges, and how pretty her blog looks.
  • Itisha: Whose blog design is so perfect for the sort of posts she writes - cute, but often wry and amused at herself - that the upside down flower cannot be beaten for aptness.
  • Sandeepa: Who I am sure has been given this award before. Because she takes the best pictures of food and has such an eye for color in the way she puts up her photos, and whose recipe for pineapple malpua makes my mouth water even though I read it a year ago and have never tried it!
  • Orange Jammies: Who can make me laugh at feel jealous with her writing skill and her control over words.
  • Kathy: Who cares for her 80-year-old father and has still not let him realize he has Alzheimer's, keeping his spirit and dignity intact, and also helping others find information and a laugh nearly every morning.
  • Eve's Lungs: For articulating what often seem to be my thoughts!
  • Kiran: For her ability to laugh at herself - supermom and super-exasperated mom at the same time!

Well that's it from me, regular transmission will resume from tomorrow!

This award is for blogs whose content and/or design are brilliant as well as creative.The purpose of the prize is to promote as many blogs as possible in the blogosphere.

1. When you receive the prize you must write a post showing it, together with the name of who has given it to you, and link them back
2. Choose a minimum of 7 blogs (or even more) that you find brilliant in their content or design.
3. Show their names and links and leave them a comment informing they were prized with ‘Brilliant Weblog’
4. Show a picture of those who awarded you and those you give the prize (optional).
5. And then we pass it on!

Blog winners, you know what to do!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Say Cheese

Today is team photograph day at work. Shirts have been tucked in. Ties rule. Borrowed jackets all around for the guys. Some have even shaved. The group of dishevelled looking young men who usually traipse around our office are suddenly walking straighter with their tummies sucked in. There are some odd combinations - like striped shirts and pin-striped trousers. But anything that helps you smile wider for the camera, with confidence, can only be good.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Peking at Beijing what I called it. But they thought differently :)

If you look at the epaper (Travel Agenda page), you can actually see the way it looks in print!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

6 Months

On the 12th of February Anando and I woke up a little earlier than usual, brushed our teeth for the last time at the tiny sink a little larger than my cooking wok, packed up the linen we had used for our last night in Bombay and wandered through the house to make sure we had packed everything. The packers had removed all the cartons the previous day. As we talked from one room to another, our voices echoed in a suddenly empty house. The early morning of a hazy day made it necessary to turn on the lights. The lit-up apartment that had been home ever since we got married suddenly looked unfamiliar. The ugly furniture from the landlord, which we'd camouflaged with our own stuff, stood out starkly - reminding me how unattractive I'd first found it. Over time I had got used to it, like I take in my stride scars from chicken pox and bicycle crashes.

I locked our door and left, remembering when we had excitedly walked in 3 weeks after the wedding, to call it our home. When we took our suitcases down to the taxi, a normal day was just starting in the building. The bathroom singer across the shaft was massacring a popular song as usual as I switched off the lights one last time. Kids were getting ready for school. The tiny grocery near our gate was stocking its wares for the day. And we turned away from it all and came away to Dubai.

6 months later - the shiny new apartment we rent here is home. We chose all the furniture, so it's all our fault if people don't like it. We can't blame a landlord like we used to in Bombay! We have a routine. We know some of our neighbours. Family have visited and warmed up our guest room. Friends have come and partied at our place, smoked on the balcony, admired the view. I have cleaned every corner of the kitchen and swept the house - a distinct assertion of ownership as far as I am concerned. Plants have agreed to flourish indoors (ahem...most plants. shhhh!).

All I'm trying to say is : it's been six months. In which I have ceased to complain about missing India because I have met innumerable people who have left behind much more. Lebanese and Iraqis whose countries are in flames. Afghanis who sweat it out here to support large families back home and haven't gone back in 5 years. Sri Lankans who clean other people's homes so that they can feed a home back in Colombo. Filipinos who will never find work in Manila because there just aren't that many jobs. Bangladeshis who are trying to escape poverty. Pakistanis and Indians who construct buildings so that the tin roofed house back home doesn't disintegrate. Taxi drivers, beauty parlor girls, maids, nurses, waiters, labourers...all of whom are in this gilded cage called Dubai. They rail against it because it holds them by the power of salary. They criticise it because it exploits their weakness for money to grow stronger, because the city is as big as the dreams of the people toiling to create it. They hate it because it is shiny and new whereas all they love and have left behind is dusty and ancient. But they all carry on like worker ants. Because of what they have left behind. Because they are responsible for it. Because they want the best for it. Because they have a chance to change it for the better.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Dreams on Wheels

He worked far away from his country, creating a family out of the other young bachelors who worked at the office – playing pranks, eating with them, confiding in them. His parents lived in a small town in the depths of India – and when he offered to buy them a car they protested the expense out of habit. He wore down their resistance, telling them to go ahead, visit the showroom, pick a color, take a test-drive. After repeated assurances that he could afford the EMIs, they accepted his offer to buy a car while he waited in the sharp desert sun to take a bus to work every morning.

The car was chosen, the color picked, the downpayment made, with him pulling the strings by remote control with the power of a foreign-currency chequebook. They drove it home, stopping by the temple to submit a coconut to the Gods before driving home along palm-lined narrow paths in a sturdy 4-wheeler that shone black against the green all around.

And he sat at his faraway desk, with a picture of the car on his desktop, answering to clients and pouring his creativity into making a living. Dream 1, at least, was achieved.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tourism in Dracula's Kingdom

This is my offering for a magazine's inaugural issue. Am still researching for the rest of the article. But I think it starts pretty well and so I decided to share it with you all :)

Innocent women run for their lives as a shadowy vampire snarls in pursuit, baring oh-so-white fangs in his bloodthirsty desperation. Blood-curdling shrieks, strings of garlic, and a suspiciously pale, tall, menacing figure form the popular imagination of that place called Transylvania.

But the reality belies the myths and legends surrounding the region.

Verdant mountainsides undulate into the distance, and occasional tall spires poke into the skyline, the unusual green of their old copper reminding us how ancient this land really is.

Immortalized as the home of the sun-hating and haemoglobin-guzzling Count Dracula (ordinarily, but no less creepily, called Vlad the Impaler), Transylvania lies in the western part of modern-day Romania. In reality the Carpathian landscapes of the region are pleasing to the eye and hold no terrors, neither in the bright hours of sunshine nor after dark. Don’t forget your camera.

Monday, July 14, 2008

That Blood-sucker

Vladdy hell, we're talking about Count Dracula (also known as Vlad the Impaler). My pet project at work right now: projecting Transylvania as not just where Dracula came from. It's involved bumping into fascinating Eastern European words like Szekelys, and realising that Transylvania basically means simply 'beyond the forest' (all it needed was a sandhi-vicched).

So while some windows on my screen focus on the serene and sylvan settings of Dracula land, the others are personal blogs with images dripping blood, lots of garlic ringing the screen, and Flash-animated bats winging into the twilight as Dracula comes forth.

What do you guys know about Transylvania? Anyone ever been there? Would love to hear about it.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Hunger pangs

I'm at work right now. And while there are deadlines threatening to devour me, I'm also really hungry. I ran through the options in my head - there's a nice food court nearby that I usually love. But what I feel like eating right now is an entire experience:

Greasy street-side chowmein. Served on just-washed steel plates to be eaten with tin forks that jar your ears when they strike metal. A white non-absorbent paper napkin with fading red borders - offered just because the dhaba is trying hard. Balancing plate while resting gingerly against a parked scooter or car. The spice making your eyes water just a little bit. People jostling past you in a busy market area. You balance all your shopping bags in one hand - slinging them through to your wrist so that the same hand can also hold your plate. The other shovels fat noodles into your mouth. Orange carrots stray from your fork and withered cabbage sticks resolutely to the plate bottom.

This was not good therapy. I am even hungrier now.

While I can just walk across to the food court anytime I want, there are millions who have no such option - and Aunty G just shared a great idea to help them. I can't believe it is so simple and yet a genuine way to help. Try it.

Saturday, June 07, 2008


Tagged by Eve's Lungs and A Muser. Gosh, this is too much me. Will try not to be flippant. It helped that I recognised so much of myself in what I read on their posts.

I am: hot-tempered
I think: I should sleep less
I know: how lucky I am
I want: to learn another language
I have: poor time-management skills
I wish: globe-trotting wasn't so expensive
I hate: hypocrites
I miss: Dida
I fear: that I will lose my memory with age
I feel: the texture of book pages when I buy/read them
I hear: someone from my family calling me when I miss them - it's just my imagination!
I smell: what I'm cooking to figure if it will taste good
I crave: not much nowadays, but brownies are always welcome
I search: for too many things that I myself misplace at home
I wonder: How others feel about all sorts of things - I keep trying to put myself in their shoes
I regret: Nothing yet. Would like to keep it that way (touchwood!)
I love: intensely
I ache: when I see old people fending for themselves, trying to timidly cross a busy road, queueing at banks or post offices
I care: about what people think. I tell myself I shouldn't, but I do
I am not: a gossip
I believe: not in God, but in the goodwill of those who love me
I dance: when I iron (to Punjabi pop...Kendi PUMP up the JAM)
I sing: whenever I know the lyrics of the song playing
I cry: when I am angry and frustrated at being helpless. And oh, when I am sad. And when I miss someone a lot. Oh, I cry a lot.
I don’t always : get my way in life
I fight: with Anando
I write: My to-do list for the day, this blog, my journal. I write myself in all that I write.
I win: people's confidence
I lose: patience easily
I never: judge people at the drop of a hat
I always: try to see two points of view
I confuse: others by talking too fast
I listen: with varying levels of attention because I am always dying to start talking
I can usually be found: at the computer/reading a book/making goo-goo eyes at brownies in shop windows
I am scared: of being alone when I die
I need: to have regular contact with family
I am happy about: the way my life is playing out

I tag: Anyone who wants to do this :) And to the entire list, I will add one more: "I imagine:___". Let me know if any of you take this up!

Monday, June 02, 2008

The Took Bag (or the "Book Tag")

Pardon the spoonerism! I couldn't resist.

Okay, so Eve's Lungs has tagged me to do this. And it's a remarkable coincidence that a book we both have in common is what I am re-reading (for the nth time) right now.

The rules are:
  1. Pick up the nearest book.
  2. Open to page 123.
  3. Find the fifth sentence.
  4. Post the next three sentences.
  5. Tag five people, and acknowledge the person who tagged you .

And I have, from The Chestry Oak by Kate Seredy (I'd so much rather be blogging my favorite bit instead of random lines from page 123):

"Take each piece of happening that, by itself, was just a meaningless hurt and
find its place in the big picture. Do it over and over, because that way one
came to understand things, and they hurt less. He had, since his seventh
birthday, come to understand a lot and the knowledge he now held within himself
was not made of sharp, separate hurts."

Wow. Would you look at that. "Random lines", I said, and yet they hold . They cope with pain. And make you stronger as you relive your own pain. This is why - though the book is prescribed reading for 9-12 year olds - I still love it, and it moves me every time.

I tag Sbora, Aunty G, Diligent Candy, A Muser and Dipali. Please tell me when you've done the tag!

Thanks Eve's Lungs :)

Monday, May 26, 2008

O Great Altar of Passive Entertainment

When you are travelling in a foreign country on work, TV is often a refuge from boredom. Of course, if all the channels are in German, and the pay-per-movie channel offers only x-rated entertainment, it can be rather dull. Unless of course you are that kind of couch potato.

But of course, late one night, when the channel that had German soap operas all day suddenly starts showing something very, umm, educational, you tend to get worried. "Did I press that button by mistake?" you ask yourself, as you sink down on your pillow and (okay, i'll admit it) watch in horrified fascination. You change the channel, but your fingers go to the "back" button just to see if it is still there. And it is. Did you really subscribe by mistake?

And then you realise, this hotel bill is going to go to the client and OH MY GOD, it's going to say "xxx-erotische" on your room bill. And your heart pounds faster not because of what's on TV but because your client will never see you the same way again. And you start planning how to leave the country in the dead of night, how to pre-pay your bill with your own credit card, and maybe even how to find another job.

And then there's a commercial break, and the jingles bring you back to earth and you realise, "Oh, this is Friday night entertainment in Germany"! It's not going to be on a bill, it's a free-to-air channel and this is their idea of a weekend bonanza. Phew.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Notes from Dubai

Did you know that in order to get a residence visa in the UAE they test you for HIV? Anando is my 'sponsor' in the UAE and so once he got his visa, he applied for mine, and then I went along one day and got 5 ml of blood poked out of my arm. The woman at the counter apparently just looks at you and decides whether you also require an X-ray or not. I evidently looked like all my bones were in the right place, so she said "only blood test" and let me pass.

Meanwhile, Anando had to sign a form promising that as my husband and sponsor he was responsible for all my actions in the UAE. (Don't even get me started on the unfairness of it all.) So if I am caught with illicit liquor he's the one who goes to jail. Cheers...hic!

So anyway, after 2 weeks, I got my passport back, and yay, I had my visa. I hadn't really thought I wouldn't get it, but what shocked me was, in capital letters written across my visa, was "HOUSEWIFE. NOT ALLOWED TO WORK."

Does this mean I don't have to take the garbage out? That I should never wash the dishes? That I can be jailed for watering the plants? That the local authorities can blow the whistle on me if they discover I have been cooking meals?

I think I should put my feet up and do nothing that can be defined as "work". Thank you, UAE government. You are very kind. You have shown that you recognise the worth of housewives all around the world.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Green and Serene

It was only when I knew I'd be moving away from Delhi that I suddenly began to appreciate all the greenery I had always taken for granted. Long, tree-lined roads on furnace-like summer afternoons welcomed a baking metal vehicle as it turned along shimmering-hot roads, and suddenly there was a coolness in the air, like getting an extra punch in the oxygen you breathe. In winters the trees clung to the mist, looming grey and bare on hazy mornings as we went to school, rubbing our hands to keep warm as icy winds tickled our ears and nostrils. In the monsoons, freshly bathed, they rationed out the rain through rejoicing leaves, and the tip tip that carried on long after the clouds were done ensured delightful, sudden showers as we puddle-hopped below sweeping branches.

Here in Dubai, one of my favourite moments is when I cross a carefully-cultivated grassy roundabout on my way to the bus-stop each evening. Even if I am hurrying, craning my neck to see if the bus is going to get the bus-stop before me, the old-friend smell of grass adds a touch of homeliness to the concrete that surrounds me.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Ground beneath my Feet

So you get dressed for work, and you put on your nice, slight mirror-worked sandals that go perfectly with white pants and a maroon shirt. And you step out feeling professional, feminine and oh-so-ready for the day.

Then you leave your seat in a hurry. Right foot steps on left foot and snap, there goes the strap on your left shoe.

So then you are hobbling around barefoot. Hoping people will just think you like the feel of solid ground beneath your feet. (Though regular readers of my blog will know better - see point 3 of that post.) Or that you are giving up the world and all material possessions. But when you need to discuss the first issue of a luxury magazine barefoot, no one will quite jump to that conclusion. And then you remember that you have safety-pins. Yay. And then you play cobbler and try to make ends meet. And then do. And you take your first confident step forward and it disintegrates. And to add injury to insult, the safety-pin pokes into your toe.

Sighhh...and it's just the first day of the week...

Sunday, March 30, 2008

12-Lakh Vehicle

Back in college one joke that never got old (I hope, because I used it a lot) was "Meri 12-laakh ki gaadi aa rahi hai, with driver" (My 12-lakh Rupee chauffeur-driven vehicle is on its way). And that expensive vehicle, of course, was the good old public bus! Waiting at a swelter-shelter, hoping against hope that (a) the bus would arrive; (b) would arrive on time; and (c) would have (standing) room for us, we consoled ourselves that it was chauffeur-driven, we didn't have to worry about parking or driving in stressful conditions, and it was incredibly cheap.

Getting on a DTC bus as a student meant we had a pass, and we declared it, with not-so-subtle undercurrents of power, to the conductor when he looked towards us. "Pass hai," we'd proclaim, and that was that. He wasn't getting any money from us! Oh, the authority with which we said it! Standing at the back of crowded U-Specials, swaying this way and that with the rhythm of the bus with our feet planted firmly on the metal floor, legs a little apart to maintain balance better - these were unconscious lessons we learnt in the laws of motion as the bus trundled (or zipped) its way to College.

It was an unspoken courtesy on buses, especially our Univ Specials, that if you were so fortunate as to have a seat, you'd offer to hold the bags, books, umbrellas, etc. for the standing population. That was the least you could do. And so, we'd clamber on to the bus, regardless of heavy backpacks, and immediately look for a welcoming face on the bus - the stranger we could hand our bag to. And then, stretch out, space permitting, in the aisle, holding tight to overhead bars, bending occasionally to peer out of the windows and assess how far home was.

It's easy to forget the complete unpredictability of waiting for public transport in a place like India when you haven't depended on buses for a while. The freedom of hailing a taxi or auto at whim brings in the self-righteous feeling that our time is too precious to waste at a bus-stop. But as students, time was the one thing we had, as we chattered about teachers, books, music, movies, boys, and waited, endlessly, for when the bus would take pity on us and deliver us from the waiting. Of course, I used the bus regularly as long as I was in Delhi, and only had access to a car in the last 2-3 years.

Why am I talking about all this today? Because public transport in Dubai is terrible. At rush hour you cannot find a single taxi. I've been curious about using the local bus, and I noticed the same bus number near my house and near the office. But the local buses are not known for punctuality so I didn't know how to get one, nor could I locate the bus shelter. So last week, I just walked home from work - it took me all of 1 hour, but I did. And today, I decided that my time wasn't so precious, and when I was striding past the bus stop to walk home again, I decided to wait instead. After 15 long minutes, it came. Pakistani driver. Some polite words in Hindustani and he assured me that I'd reach home just fine. And as I stood steady in the aisle, refusing offers to share some space with seated women, I remembered all those long afternoons, when we waited for the bus, not knowing what it would be like when it came, just like the future that awaited us then.

Friday, March 28, 2008


My grandfather would have turned 94 today. Too early in life, he lost his eyesight. But when I visited my grandparents in Allahabad, he always gave me reason to look forward to opening my eyes each morning. I would wake up, a hot and sweaty little girl on an unforgiving June morning, and slip my hand excitedly under my pillow. And it would always be there - a little gold coin. Eagerly unwrapping it with fumbling, hurried hands, I'd peel away the sticky gold foil to reveal the treasure within. If my parents weren't around, the chocolate would be in my mouth before I had even brushed my teeth.

I never really had heart-to-heart conversations with him. But he was a doting grandfather - jalebis or imartis for breakfast every Sunday, when he'd walk a long way (sometimes with me tagging along) to fetch them from his favourite shop. I remember he took me to watch The Jungle Book at a local theatre. And he would make faces at my Thakuma behind her back - provoking giggles from my brother and me.

A short-hand teacher all his life, his study was a somber room, with an ancient cupboard bulging open to reveal yellowing papers, and a large portrait of Pitman dominated the wall. Long benches lined the mammoth wooden table, and when the students had left for the afternoon, this was our dining table too. Dadu would sit at the head of the table, and we, like most self-respecting Bong families, would devour aloo bhaja, aloo bhate, aloo posto and I think the fish curry had aloo (potato) in it as well!

Dadu's failing eyesight never made his walk unsure. When he visited us in Delhi, he would walk around very fast, as if to prove a point. And my grandmother, who had a leg problem, would lag behind. My brother and I would have to split up - taking a grandparent each to keep pace with! With his dhoti (no trousers for him) pleats neatly in his silken kurta pocket, he would walk steadily and swiftly, as I hopped-stepped-and-jumped to keep up with him!

The radio was Dadu's friend, and it hugged his ear for a large part of his bed-ridden life. "Yeh Akashvani hai" and the BBC signature tune were familiar sounds in the house when Dadu was around. He had been a Shakespeare fan. And in his last days, with suspected Alzheimer's and a mind dulled with age and blindness, he would rejoice afresh each time I told him that I had studied literature at college. He would name his favourites, and smile eagerly as I talked about the plays I had read, punctuating what I said with "wah!" from time to time.

But what I remember most about Dadu is his passion for aftershaves. Unable to see, his nose was his source of pleasure, and he enjoyed trying different scents each day after the ritual shave. Body talc, deodorants, after shaves - these filled up his dark world with sensations and made him smile.

He's been gone for over 3 years now, but even today thoughts of Dadu remind me of the excitement of waking up to treasures under my pillow.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

All in a Day's Work

The charming, spaced-out lady across the table explained conscientiously what she wanted. Her words were carefully enunciated, as English is not her first language and she has a somewhere-in-the-former-USSR accent.

"No bosoms. No bottttoms, No stuff below here," she stated, indicating her neck. And I made mental notes for this post.

If I can do interesting things like this at work, I occasionally have to take the dullest briefs possible, but its statements like these that lighten up the boredom. This lady's business is all about supplying mannequins for window displays (yawn). I was mentally dozing as she explained the different kinds of mannequins to us - "Zere aaar ze non-head mannequins, abstrrraaaact mannequins, forrrm mannequins and the nurrrmaaaal mannequins," she clarified, holding up pictures of each kind like flash cards. It felt like biology class. I've always found the headless mannequins really spooky - why would you want to buy something that's been displayed on a headless figure?

Anyway, so the brochure we make for her cannot display any naked mannequins. That's the UAE for you - it's as simple as that, and I guess it's understandable. So when we'd sent her a sample with nice photos of mannequins - naturally mostly naked ones - she got all panicky and called us to explain that this would not do. So now, all the naked pictures need to be photo-shopped and dressed up. No naked mannequins please, we're in the Middle East.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Legacy

For as long as I can remember, there is one thing that the women of the Bose, Chatterjee and Mukharji family have used, and which I have now introduced into the Ghose family as well. That noble item, smoothening out the creases in the linen of our lives is, tan-tan-taraaaaa:

A simple jhainta, the one here has been dressed up with my scrunchie for a festive look. I don't know what you call it in your language, but I am sure this picture will be worth a thousand synonyms.

For as long as I can remember, every morning my grandmother and mother would get up and start whipping things around them into shape. As we ducked out of range, the bed would be dusted using this jhainta, beating all creases out of it. Pillows and cushions would be walloped and plumped into the shape they were meant to be. When I grew older and began doing my bit, I realised the satisfaction of watching microscopic dust particles flying off the bed with each stroke, creating a dust haze in the morning sunlight filtering through the windows. And no bed could ever be properly made without this mandatory corporal punishment. Thwack, thwack thwack goes the jhainta, and it keeps time with the user's mood that morning. I had never questioned it, and I had always taken it for granted.

I got married, moved to Bombay, and realised that without the jhainta the bed just didnt feel properly made. I had to go out and buy one. The maid promptly took it into the bathroom and used it to wash the floor. Which is what most normal people would use it for, I guess. But my houseproud grandmother and mother had turned it into an ally in the rest of the house as well - straightening out their lives with its help. And I bought a replacement and hid it from the maid.

When my mother-in-law first visited us, she came to the room in the morning when she heard the unfamiliar thwack thwack thwack. I propounded at length on its qualities, and when I next visited Kolkata, I found one in the corner of our room, for me to use while I was there!!!

My jhainta has accompanied us to Dubai. And each morning I use it and think of the long history I am honouring with this simple act. And how, in a very special way, this is a legacy too - a little domestic tip, a secret to a better made bed, and a virtual pranam to the women who have used it before me.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Blogger Bother

(My comment responses appear at the end of this post)

Just a small note to all of you: For the past few days I've been having trouble getting on my blog. I can get to my dashboard (mostly), write new posts, but I cannot write my own comments in response to yours, or open my blog page at all. And no blogspot pages are loading on my computer, either at home or at work.

It reminds me of the time blogs were banned in India and we all went to to access our pages. But even that isn't working this time. Is anyone else facing this probem, especially if you are (or if anyone you know is) blogging from Dubai? And if so, any solutions/suggestions?

Comment responses:

Sandeepa: Thanks. Will try doing that. And no, "view blog" isn't working either. It's most annoying.

Monday, March 17, 2008


I watch her walk by, oblivious to my pain. In her hand is a tall, cool drink. The glass is getting frosty and little droplets of water form on her hand as she holds the glass, sipping from it occasionally. I try to attract her attention, but I can't speak. I try moving to remind her that I exist, but I seem to be rooted to the spot. How long has it been since I drank some fluids? The dehydration is killing me. I can feel that it's getting harder to breathe. My skin is starting to turn yellow. Even the ground around me feet is parched and getting cracked. In this desert land, how can she have left me to fend for myself without a drink of water for three days??? What does she think I am? A cactus? I'm just a simple money plant. I need my water.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


While I still find my feet in this new city, my settling-in was disrupted by some mental gypsy wanderings yesterday. I went off to Greece. And there was Plato propped up against a pillar of the Acropolis, telling a bunch of toga-clad Greek fellows about the ideal Republic and the philosopher-ruler. The blue sea glimmered in the background and the white-painted buildings shone in the sun. Of course, everyone was drinking some ouzo, and eating olives. Just as I was planning to join them and dredge up my memories of what Arjun Mahey taught us in first year, someone rapped on my desk and brought me rudely back to reality.

With a sigh, I got back to work on the travel brochure for "World Destinations", which is my latest assignment at work. So all of yesterday, I just wanted to be nowhere but Greece. Today, it was Jordan. After wandering through Petra, I stopped by the Dead Sea. Excuse me while I go off to wash the Dead Sea rejuvenating mask from my face.

Tomorrow, Turkey.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Getting Comfortable at a New Workplace

  1. Make sure your seat is at the correct height versus your computer screen.
  2. Personalise your computer - this involves changing the wallpaper, downloading and Smiley Central, playing around with the font of your outgoing mail signature, and naming folders of your documents after yourself.
  3. Locate and master the coffee machine/befriend the woman who makes the coffee.
  4. Get a strategically-sized waterbottle (not too big/too small) that you can refill from time to time as an excuse to leave your desk.
  5. Practice the busy face: lips pursed, eyes squinting in concentration, finger tapping the pen or on the mouse.

An office desk after a year and a half of working from home. Colleagues. Inside jokes. Sign in/sign out registers. Team deadlines. Here I come....

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Isn't it fate biting you in the rear when you escape a leaking toilet spray hose in rented accommodation by moving countries, only to find that the toilet spray hose in the brand new house leaks in exactly the same way?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Wi-Fi, in Dubai

The last time I used the joys of wi-fi to write about a place, I was sitting on an open-air bench in Mauritius. Today, I sit in a French cafe on a busy highway of Dubai, munching on a cinnamon danish and writing about my first 5 days in this new place I'll call home for 2 years.

Dubai has been interesting so far. When I stayed here for 3 months last year, I wasn't too happy. So moving here has been a leap of faith for the two of us. But this was a good time in our lives to uproo ourselves, take a chance and head out. There is no guarantee we will like it. But why try and predict the future. You all will know what happens as it does.

Wrapping up in Mumbai was bittersweet, and if it hadn't been for my wrath at Reliance, I may even have got rather sentimental about it. But the smart people at Reliance ensured I had time to feel little else but anger. To cut a long story somewhat short, there was a landline connection. I explained to many, many people at the Reliance call centre (see this, point 4, and multiply each figure by, oh-i-don't-know, 10,000?) that I didn't want it anymore. They were supposed to come by, collect the now-good-for-nothing instrument, and give me my honest Rs 2,000 back.

So of course I heard all sorts of promises. And of course on the last day, with my world being packed into cartons around me I had my finger on the redial button to check where on earth their representative was and when he would come by. The icing was when, exasperated after being promised that this would be done at "top priority" (no one there knew what that meant), I called to ask if I could then leave the phone instrument with a friend. Oh no, they said. We can only collect it from the registered address. But that's your fault I said through clenched teeth, in a high-pitched, echoing sort of voice. I apologise for the inconvenience, they said, unhelpfully. Finally when I got all suicidal on the guy he told me I could take it to a Reliance WebWorld outlet and get the work done. Light at the end of the tunnel, I thought, and sat up straight. He told me the address nearest to my house and then said, but I'm not sure they will do it. You can check. Oh, so please give me their number. I'm afraid we don't have the number they said, bringing the whole warped cycle of dial-redial fulllll circle. I will end this story right here, since I hung up at that.

Anyway, so I am away from them, and settling into a new house in Dubai. We're at a hotel till the furniture arrives, and I've been spending short stretches of time at the house, getting curtain rods fixed (yes, the house has nothing), the cooking range installed, etc. while Anando crawls around on the bathroom floor locating the source of the leak near the shower. (We're 50-50 partners. But it seems I choose which 50 is mine!)

Dubai is an assault. Not necessarily a bad kind, but it does stun you with lights, speed, technology, artificial land, and skyscrapers. When you recover, you try to look beyond all that. But the buildings are all built of reflecting glass, so you just see yourself, a stranger trying to look in, but eventually just looking. And seeing only himself or herself. Once you find some friends in all the concrete and wires holding the sand together, it looks better. And you sort of get held together as well.

Kachra jagah hai (it's a trashy place) judged the Pakistani taxi driver. On a 20-minute drive I learnt his entire family tree, the career aspirations of his nephews back in Lahore, and how he hated it here but loved going back armed with suitcasefuls of gifts. Since he wouldn't get leave for his brother's wedding, he devised an 'emergency'. His friend's cousin's brother-in-law passed away in the village, and the friend faxed a copy of that death certificate for this guy to apply for leave. Little does the newly-dead man know how he helped a total stranger enjoy an unexpected holiday.

Taxi drivers are interesting here. Take for instance the Pakistani man who knew all about Bal and Raj Thackeray and who also vented angst about American puppet governments destroying the world. And all this was done while driving and furiously trimming the hair on his left ear with a pair of tweezers. Or take the red-haired Egyptian called Mohammed who talked to me about Pharoahs, meat-only diets, embalming techniques, herbal medicine and a 5-times married grandfather.

The Philippines is well represented here. And when I say well, I mean your housekeeping, your hotel waiters, your customer-care voices, your laundry people, and just about everyone else. If they are not Filipino, they are mostly from Kerala. The complimentary house-cleaning our broker arranged for us happened while I was away. The company employs only Filipinas. So I get this SMS from the man in-charge. 'Anamika, the girls I sent were too short to clean the tops of the windows. Next time we will send the taller girls we'll get that done.' I let myself into the apartment to see untidy arcs on the upper edges of the windows, where some poor vertically-challenged girl had jumped in vain and taken swipes at the dust mocking her beyond the 5-foot-5 mark. I think I will clean those windows myself. Why wait for a tall Filipina to arrive. That could take a while.

But it's amazing how international and Indian this place is. Sure, the Filipinos, Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans and other South Asians are keeping the country going, but you hear all sorts of languages all around you. You see all kinds of people. And you can lapse into Hindi with about 60% of the people you meet no matter where they are from. You can struggle to communicate in English with the home delivery guy over the phone, only to hear him ask his colleague while you hold 'Woh fridge ka order tha, nikal gaya?' And then when he comes back online you continue the conversation in Hindi.

This has been a disjointed post. But so are my impressions as yet. We will move into the house in another week at most, and hopefully have Internet at home by then. Along with the furniture, I will organise my thoughts and come back with more to say.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Not Caught on Camera

Picture this:

A 6-foot something Arab. Possibly weighs 120 kilos. White outfit. Red and white chequered headdress. Heavy stubble. Standing in a mall. Holding up to the light a baby's milk bottle to check the level of milk.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

I'm Alive... case anyone was wondering. While waiting to board I noticed a man in the lounge who was exploring his nose like there was no tomorrow (and no audience). And I worried that I'd end up somewhere near him on the flight. Thankfully, he was meant for other places of the world than me.

Dubai is nuts at the moment with the shopping festival going on. There are HUGE queues everywhere and people wait patiently for cabs with trolley-fulls of stuff. It took us 45 minutes yesterday to exit the parking lot of a mall once we had finished shopping for our furniture there.

An empty house is full of possibilities. And imagination. And dust. I spent 15 minutes yesterday trying to figure out what sort of broom would be best given that our good old Indian jhaaroo was nowhere in sight. I swept the 'brooms aisle' with various varieties before finally settling on what I wanted. Now to use it.

An interesting discovery, apparently at night we can see from our balcony the lights of ships near the Iranian border. I think I'm going to buy binoculars to peer into the distance!!!

Ok, off to do some more work.

Friday, February 08, 2008

All My Bags are Packed....

...err, no, not really.

But here's a reality check on the way things stand:

  • I ran to the drawing room from the shower to answer my cellphone but the bright light there reminded me just in time that there are no curtains the drawing room windows. (They're at the dry-cleaners)
  • The spare-room bed is COVERED in stuff that needs to fit into two suspiciously small suitcases.
  • The car is being sold tomorrow. No, not to Honey. Yes, of course he is heart-broken.
  • I have explained to 6 different Reliance Telecom representatives over 4 different phone calls over 2 weeks over about 14:56 minutes of Airtel talk-time that I want to cancel my subscription and not transfer it to someone else and that I cannot possibly take up their kind offer of a low-rent scheme because it's of no use to me in Dubai.
  • Since Tata Sky provides no refunds I have gifted my subscription to someone for 1500 Rupees. (Angelic smile)
  • My good friend (the salesman at the curtain shop) is thrilled to have 'exported' curtains to Dubai. His clientele previously extended to Khandala, as he proudly told me (after presuming that leaving Bombay meant I could only be going as far as Panvel).
  • I may end up stealing the VCD of Padosan from Jagan Bhai of Chariot DVD as no one has come to retrieve it and I haven't had time to return it. It is a 99-Rupee VCD which he rents out for 45 Rupees. I think his business will survive.
  • I have cleaned up nooks and crannies of all my kitchen shelves and bedroom cupboards, and discovered some things I thought were lost (and some that I’d forgotten even existed).
  • I have said my farewells to Candies, Toto’s, Café Britannia, Just Around the Corner, On My Own, Linking Road and all the other usual suspects. Tomorrow, I will bid a beerful, oops, tearful farewell to Café Mondegar.

More again from the other side, my friends. I fly to desert lands soon. Imagine my next blog post done on camel-back amid sand-dunes. Sighhh...

Monday, February 04, 2008

Hasta Lavista Bombay (and what you stood for)

I leave Bombay in a week to set up life in a new country, and around the same time that I am getting nostalgic about places and people in particular and about the city in general, I have also come to the conclusion that much of what Bombay has stood for in the popular imagination is changing. And so when I say good-bye to Bombay next Tuesday it will not just be to a place, but to a concept that is quickly and systematically being murdered.

With more and more incidents of women's molestation coming to light and with an increasing intolerance of outsiders, Bombay is losing the cosmopolitan, progressive tag it always had. People came here from all over India to make their fortunes. A Nat Geo programme said Bombay is both the New York and the Hollywood of India. So true - with the stock market and the film industry headquartered here, it is where India's global heart beats today.

And the buck just keeps passing on and on. When a woman was cut into three pieces by a train last week at Dadar station no one agreed to take her to the hospital. The station said it was police responsibility. Police said it was the railways'. Ultimately 3 coolies wheeled the body on a goods cart to the Sion Hospital 5 km away. All this as the woman's son helplessly watched his mother's body lie there.
When women were groped and their clothes torn at Juhu after the new year's party, the Shiv Sena said, 'these were outsiders.' Today, news channels showed footage of Maharashtrians on the rampage, against North Indians. I watched a man carefully pick-up 2 sealed packets of paapdi from a stall, tuck them under his arm, and then knock down the chaat vendor's cart. Someone even committed the heresy of trying to attack the house of the original UP bhaiyya in Bombay - Amitabh Bachchan! Raj Thackeray said 'They were not from my party.' Tomorrow, his party workers do something wrong he will say 'It was not me.'

How long can we keep constructing an 'other' to blame for all that is wrong with a place. How comfortable. How convenient. But don't people realise that Bombay's world identity also comes from these 'others'? And where does one draw the line between 'us' and 'them'? Tomorrow Christians in Bandra might say that they won't allow Muslims from Mahim to come into Bandra as they are spoiling our 'culture'. People from Nariman Point will say that they don't want people coming in from the suburbs and taking away their jobs. What sort of boundaries will we draw when there is nothing left to divide further?

As the world becomes a smaller place, our minds are getting smaller too. There is nowhere left to run. The daughter of a Bengali from UP and a Bengali from Delhi, married to a Bengali who grew up in Dhanbad, where does that leave me? If tomorrow Dubai tells me to go back to where I belong, where will I go? If I come to Bombay will they send me to Delhi? If I go to Delhi will they send me to Calcutta? If I go to Calcutta will they disown me?

And while we talk of blaming the invisible other, here's the first poem that taught me about passing the buck:

Mr Nobody

I know a funny little man,
As quiet as a mouse,
Who does the mischief that is done
In everybody's house!

There's no one ever sees his face,
And yet we all agree
That every plate we break was cracked
By Mr. Nobody.

'Tis he who always tears our books,
Who leaves the door ajar,
He pulls the buttons from our shirts,
And scatters pins afar;

That squeaking door will always squeak,
For, prithee, don't you see,
We leave the oiling to be done
By Mr. Nobody.

He puts damp wood upon the fire,
That kettles cannot boil;
His are the feet that bring in mud,
And all the carpets soiled.

The papers always are mislaid,
Who had them last but he?
There's no one tosses them about
But Mr. Nobody.

The finger marks upon the door
By none of us are made;
We never leave the blinds unclosed,
To let the curtains fade.

The ink we never spill;
the boots that lying round you see
Are not our boots -- they all belong
To Mr. Nobody.

Each of us is a Nobody. As is everyone else. So Nobody is Everybody. And Everybody is Nobody.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Bare Necessities

Do diwane sheher mein

Remember the original hunt for that dream house, picturised on the optimistic Amol Palekar and Zarina Wahab who sing of the aashiyana they seek?

As the daughter of a government servant, I saw my parents always live in whatever house we got. You took what you got because otherwise there were enough people waiting to take it instead of you! Choice was not a known entity.

Soon after we decided to get married, Anando needed to move houses in a hurry and found this furnished Bombay house, which became my home after November 2006. Now, though I love my Bombay house, it's because how at home I have been in it, how many memories there are here, how many dear ones have visited and spent a great few hours or days. But, though I love it, I didn't choose it. And I didn't choose for Anando to drive around the lanes surrounding the building 3 times before he finds a parking spot that is not a giant pot-hole. I certainly didn't choose for the 8 in the 18 on our door to be screwed in upside down so the fatter o is on top (I still itch to fix it when I see it). I certainly didn't choose the wall-to-wall mirror in the drawing room that reflects every move you make in the living room. And I certainly didn't choose the pink tiles in the kitchen that occasionally feature a jug with assorted fruits lying around it. And I certainly did not choose the GIANT mirror in the bedroom (no laughing!).

So when the move to Dubai was finalised and we figured we could actually see several houses and pick one, I was kind of looking forward to a house that would set me free from these very, umm, defined, tastes in decor. I was thrilled that for the first time, I could pick and choose our home. And, I must admit, I was lost. I had little idea what to look for.

So Anando and I went househunting in Dubai some days back. The company sponsored a sort of reconnaisance trip so that when we eventually move in mid-Feb we know where we are going to be. (And so that Anando doesn't take time off from the new office to house-hunt.) I had a little notebook with the names and numbers of all the estate agents and we were armed with an Excel sheet that contained the parameters we wanted to keep in mind while selecting a house (yes, an Excel sheet, Anando is not an MBA for nothing. These are the ways he reminds me).

Our central issues were basic ones - proximity to workplace and groceries (traffic in Dubai sucks), 2 toilets (allowing easy (ahem) passage for all the relatives and friends who are threatening to visit), decent kitchen space, and other assorted middle-class concerns. And oh, of course, whether we could afford all those in an obscenely expensive place like Dubai.

And then, we finally found a flat which seemed to fit the bill, and more. Thrilled, we rushed around from room to room wondering how on earth we would fill up all this empty space with what little we own. And we day-dreamt about the ways in which to decorate it. I worried about the lack of a gas connection, which meant that I would have to cook on a hotplate. We worried that the supermarket was not as close by as we would have liked. But we were willing to live with these problems. Then, going up in the elevator, we met a European gentleman who lived in the building. And Anando asked him whether there were any major problems he faced in his day-to-day living here. The man thought, and with a grave shaking of his head to indicate dissatisfaction, came up with this as we waited anxiously: "Yesss. There is only one fixed parking spot."

By this time his floor had arrived and he left with a small bow. And Anando remarked: "What problems these people have."

Yes, when you come from a place where you cannot take water and electricity for granted (and you are still better off than millions of others), locating parking for your second car is not exactly high on the priority list!

Added soon after: I clicked 'publish' and the doorbell rang. Watchman telling us the lights are off between 10 am and 5 pm tomorrow. Thanks Reliance! I knew I could(n't) count on you!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sniff Stuff

Who nose why just a smell can take you down memory lane? Is it that a particular whiff, inhaled through the nose, enters our bloodstream, hits our head, our heart, and makes itself an eternal part of the life rushing through our veins - keeping us human, keeping us alive, helping us remember?

I have always marvelled at how a fleeting smell can transport me back to an entirely different setting. I have to pick up the pieces and set the memory in place, even as the transient scent has already gone, leaving me with my eyebrows raised, my eyes squinting in concentration, and my footsteps slower. My nose on alert to recapture that elusive trigger, I try and put into thoughts what my heart and mind have already remembered and reconstructed.

Just yesterday, I was walking along Hill Road (where the hilly experience is defined by the number of potholes and not by sylvan views of mountainous splendour - this is Bombay after all) around 11.30 am. A bad time to be a pedestrian. Dodging cars, bikes, dogs, people, streetvendors. The stretch of shops I walked past were gloomy coffin-makers, frame-shops, shady jewellery stores, and dingy upholstery displays. The winter sun warmed us even as the jammed vehicles poisioned our veins.

And suddenly in the middle of it all I smelt (so quick that I may have imagined it, but why would I do so?) gulaal, or the powder colours used to play Holi. You know it don't you? That hot, synthetic smell that tickles your nose? And snap! I was back in time. Holi happens around March. The time of exams, the time of fears, the time of winter-turning-summer when you are never sure how hot or cold to feel. And I was in school uniform again, it was a Delhi winter on its way out. I was worrying about completing my revision on time. Long phone conversations on the sly where friends confessed how bad their preparation really was. Dodging flying water balloons on the way back from the bus-stop. Passing by shops selling pyramids of colour to brighten up the fading dull of winter. Half-empty school buses because everyone didn't have an exam every day. Getting to sit. Aware that the new school year would mean new faces and some missing faces.

Bombay went on all around me and I walked back home, treading a time bubble that burst when an impatient driver honked at me.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Virtues of the Virtual

We frequently distinguish between the real and the virtual worlds but in the blogosphere I think the two are inextricably linked. I put a little bit of myself on this blog and leave it out there for the world to see. Some of the world drops by and leaves footprints on my comments page. I follow those footprints in various directions, walk around in cyber-circles but end up travelling a great deal. And in all this, I learn. I empathise. I react. I smile. And when the cyber-circles come knocking on my door with tags and blessings for me, I am humbled, grateful and realise why is is the world wide web. I am stuck in it. And I mean that in the best way possible.
So what is this blog blessing all about? I quote:’s a game of tag with a difference, rather than looking within, we look
outside ourselves and bless, praise and pray for one blog friend. By
participating in this endeavour we not only make the recipient of the blessing
feel valued and appreciated, but we have some fun terms of seeing how far
around the world the bloggin’ blessings can travel a and how many people can be
blessed! Recipients of a bloggin’ blessing may upload the above image to their
sidebar if they choose to. If you recieve a bloggin’ blessin’ please leave a
comment on this thread
here so that we can rejoice in just how many blessings have been sent around the world!

So who do I want to shower with blessings? The bloggers I regularly interact with know exactly how I feel about them and their writing through my comments. So this time I will 'bless' two new people.
Kathy doesn't know me, but I read her blog everyday. Caring for a father from whom Alzheimer's Disease has claimed his memory but not his sense of humour, Kathy always sees the silver lining and I wish her eternal strength to do what she is doing.
Riverbend writes only occasionally, but even so she reminds of the indomitable nature of the human spirit. Now that she has escaped war-ravaged Iraq as a refugee in Syria, she is 'free', but bears the scars of watching her home turn into a war zone. I hope she is blessed with peace and healing after all she has been through.
Neither Kathy nor Riverbend probably know I exist. But my prayers for them are a sign of how the virtual world can evoke real emotions, and how this 'web' holds us all together.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Show me the Money, Honey

(Phone rings)


"Miss Anamika?" the man enquires.


"You had placed an ad to sell your car?"


"My name is Honey. Can you describe the car?"

And so the conversation continues. I talk money. He talks less money. Finally we decide on having him come over to see the car. As I'm about to hang up, I say, "Well, alright then, thanks. Bye Honey." And in my head is this voice telling me how silly it sounds. Nevertheless, it has been said.

"Ermmm...Ma'am, my name is HaneeF".


A good friend advises me that if I call them all Honey they will surely buy my car.

Many people I told this to laughed at me for thinking his name was Honey. But I'm from Delhi, where plenty of self-respecting Punjabi men are called Honey, Lucky, Jolly and even Goldie! (And sometimes, they're called Sukhwinder, but that's no fun!)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Filmy, Very Filmy

My office was a casual place, with people bantering and commenting on goings-on, complaining about funny grammar in books being edited, and so on. People came and went. Prem Singh with the coffee. Negi to collect stuff for our typesetters. The occasional desk editor to ask about something. Santosh to clarify little matters before things went to press.

Sunaina and I worked at adjacent desks. And would sometimes (okay, often) disturb the other with a "Psstt...guess what!" or just make fun of each other. One dull day we'd been talking on and off. With my back to the office, and the cubicle wall rising to my left, I was lost in my own world - in deep contemplation about how to soothe an angry author. So when I heard Sunaina say "Mere paas kuchh nahin hai. Anamika, tumhare paas?" I only half-registered what was going on. I announced in a baritone: "Mere paas Ma hai."

Silence followed. It sank in after about 10 seconds that there was no context for Sunaina to have said that, and slowly turned. First I saw Sunaina, big grin on her face. Then I turned my head further. There stood Negi. Asking, "Mere liye kuchh hai?"

He always avoided me after that. What can I say? Yeh tum mujhe kis jurm ki sazaa de rahe ho?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

"Fire Fire"

Centuries ago, as a student at JNU, I giggled loud and long over a fire safety sign in our department building that enumerated several steps to safety. There were the usual suspects, such as "Do not use the elevator" and so on. But the one that took the cake was the instructive, demonstrative, and very, very practical: "Raise alarm by shouting 'FIRE FIRE'."

I thought that was the stupidest thing I ever saw.

But I remembered all that when I watched the blaze engulf a busy commercial building in Kolkata's Burrabazar area. I watched on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. And the situation only grew worse. Firemen watched helplessly. The army got called in.
Apparently there wasn't enough water.
Apparently the pump wasn't working.
Apparently the ladders couldn't reach high enough. (This is a 13-storey building in a city where the highest building is 32 floors.)
Apparently the ladder brought in from nearby Haldia did not work.
Apparently the army - brought in to control a situation that should never have spun out of control in the first place - were not getting much help from the firemen.
Apparently the army would spray foam and the fire department would wash it out. (Where did that water come from? And why were they fighting each other instead of the fire?)
Apparently Kolkata is a metropolitan city of the 21st century.

This is (one of) the stupidest thing(s) I have ever seen.

The Weekend Blogger has written about Burrabazar and you can visualise a bustling hub of small commerce, all of which adds up to thriving trade. The fortunes of a huge section of Kolkata are in ashes right now. Burnt, tattered, flooded, destroyed. So it was an unauthorised building. So what? I just cannot understand how a fire in a big city with an 'organised' government (they even have a Fire Minister!) could be allowed to rage for three whole days. The Fire Minister behaved badly (on camera) with the lobby of Rajasthani politicians who came to represent the traders' case. He had nothing to say. He had plenty to do, but was not doing it. The CM never even went to visit the site. If that is the message from the top, what will the bottom-feeders do?

Over the last few months things have gone terribly wrong in Kolkata. And over the last year or more, in West Bengal. Flooding and constant road reconstruction angered everyone. Nandigram, and Rizwanur's murder, placed the city's intelligentsia at loggerheads with the CPI(M). I think the only silver lining of the smoky cloud over this blaze is that now, another section of the population will turn against that stupid, stupid government. And do you think that might mean a change for the better?